As Missourians, we can count ourselves as lucky beneficiaries of a top-ranking state parks system that is easy to enjoy. Missouri state parks are plentiful and ecologically diverse: 88 state parks and historic sites preserve beautiful river-ways, portions of the Ozarks, deciduous forests, glades, and prairies. These parks are a venue for various types of recreational outdoor activities, from camping and hiking to kayaking, mountain biking, and trail running. And if that’s not cool enough, due to a minimal sales tax, our state parks are free to enjoy! First approved by voters in 1984, the Parks, Soils, and Water Sales Tax is just one-tenth of one-percent of sales tax, but makes up roughly 75% of the Parks Department’s annual budget – vital funding for our state parks systems. In addition to funding parks, the sales tax also provides funding for water and soil conservation efforts, implemented by farmers, to control erosion and to maintain healthy soils and waterways. This tax will be back on the ballot in the 2016 election season for the option of renewal. Historically, Missourians have overwhelmingly supported the preservation of our state parks as vital contributors to our health and happiness.
Research has shown that people of all ages benefit immensely by spending regular time outside. I don’t have to look far into lengthy scientific articles to discover some of the mental and physical health benefits attained by spending time in the great outdoors. In fact, I don’t have to step far from my front door to discover them for myself! Easy-to-access Missouri state parks have played a vital role in forming some of my most cherished memories. Throughout my childhood, my family would use any national holiday as an excuse to pack a picnic lunch and head out to a Missouri state park (Elephant Rocks State Park and Onondaga Cave State Park were repeat favorites!) – Mothers’ Day, Memorial Day, Fathers’ Day… you get the point. As my siblings have grown and set out on their own, we continue to plan state-parks-centered adventures on at least one holiday or vacation each year. The state parks accommodate our different recreational interests, are a source of entertainment for the day, and provide a beautiful backdrop to important family time.
Don’t overlook the role state parks play in our lives and in our families’ lives – the memories we make and the traditions we form in the parks are intangible, but important! With spring just around the corner, now is the time to start planning your own memory-making adventures in our state parks with friends and family! Don’t forget to join our #moparkschallenge before you go (see website for details!). Which park will you visit first?